Auto Racing – The Return of Retro

Car styling through the years has gravitated between racing influences and tributes to the great automobiles of the past. Sometimes it’s both, a case in point being the 1990s Chrysler Concorde with its wide oval grill reminiscent of early 1960s Ferraris. The Prancing Horse has been evoked by other makes as well, such as the 1955 Chevrolet and its Ferrari-inspired grill. The current styling theme seems to be retro – with a vengeance. Some examples of the trend include the Chrysler PT Cruiser that recalls the 1930s, the Chevrolet HHR with its 1940s look and the new Ford Mustang that pays homage to the Mustangs of the late 1960s.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the big American automakers have embraced the retro theme. Note that very few, if any, overseas carmakers have done the same (BMW, with its line of roadsters may be an exception). Could it be that domestic manufacturers long for the days when they ruled the automotive roost? It’s debatable whether car buyers share this nostalgia for the past, but then again nostalgia is a prime motivator when middle-aged buyers make costly purchases. Ford cleverly played the “mid-life crisis” card with their latest version of the Thunderbird. The car was styled with one eye on the classic two-seat T-Birds of the 1950s. It didn’t handle especially well, nor did its engine provide much power or excitement, but the Thunderbird wasn’t designed to be a seat-of-the-pants performer – it was aimed straight for the heart.

The Ford Mustang, on the other hand, was purposely planned to hit the emotional and physical targets. It could be optioned with Cobra style stripes and other “go fast” accessories, plus the under hood pieces to enable it to keep its promises. The Mustang has been an unqualified success, and everyone has noticed. Chrysler is planning to release an updated Dodge Challenger in 2007 that bears more than a passing resemblance to its early 1970s namesake, down to the “Plum Crazy” paint job.

Even GM, troubled giant though it may be, has announced plans to reissue the Chevrolet Camarro. The Camarro also promises to feature retro styling, this time based on the memorable 1969 edition. It goes to show you: in the world of automobiles, everything old is new again!

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